RBG, a national hero and feminist, passes away
Ruth Bader Ginsburg dedicated her life to social reform and justice. The spark came when she was at Cornell University, working as a research assistant for the famed professor of constitutional law Robert Cushman. As she realized how far we were straying from our most fundamental values, Ginsburg resolved to go into law and stand up for the oppressed, soon helping to launch the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU in her fight against gender discrimination. Throughout her extensive career and her later appointments to the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, she furthered her well-lauded reputation as a litigator and steadfast advocate for gender equality and human rights, not to mention as a major proponent of moderation and collegiality. On Sept. 17, a day before her passing, she was awarded the 2020 Liberty Medal from the National Constitution Center. She is, to be perfectly blunt, “the closest thing America has to the consummate anti-Donald Trump… the embodiment of hope for an empowered future.”
Of course, she was shown the utmost respect and honor when her casket was laid in National Statuary Hall, making her the first woman and first Jewish person in history to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol. Her legacy of thorough briefs and opinions will also be perused and analyzed indefinitely.
However, the future of this divided, pandemic-ridden nation, short one notorious RBG, is all the more worrying. As the upcoming election nears, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to fill the vacancy on the court as soon as possible. The hypocrisy is obvious. Back in 2016, Republicans blocked President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, saying that it was an election year and that voters should be able to weigh in on the next Supreme Court justice.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has already shot back at McConnell: “They know there is no reason, no reason, no argument, no logic to justify flipping your position 180 degrees and calling it some kind of principle. It is not.” Schumer continued, “How can we trust each other if when push comes to shove, when the stakes are the highest, the other side will double-cross their own standards when it’s politically advantageous?” Needless to say, with Ginsburg’s dying wish brutally ignored, the infamous partisanship that stains American politics will only grow worse.
Already, the Trump administration has nominated Amy Coney Barrett, currently a judge in the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals, to fill Ginsburg’s newly vacated seat on the Supreme Court. From her 2019 lone dissent after a 7th Circuit panel majority rejected a Second Amendment challenge from a man found guilty of felony mail fraud and prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal and Wisconsin law to her recent dissent after a 7th Circuit panel left intact a U.S. district court decision temporarily blocking a Trump policy that disadvantaged green card applicants who apply for any public assistance, it’s clear her confirmation would establish a 6-3 conservative majority on the court. It follows that with her traditional Catholic beliefs, inseparable from her jurisprudence, this confirmation would probably mark the end of Roe v. Wade. She would also pose a threat to Obamacare, which will be challenged before the Supreme Court on November 10, one week after election day; as an originalist, Barrett has criticized the preservation of the Affordable Care Act as going beyond the plausible meaning of the law.
The outlook looks grim. Of the 53 Republicans in the Senate, only Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who voted against Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, and Senator Susan Collins of Maine, in danger of losing her reelection campaign and citing the Republican policy in 2016, would vote no on any nominee before the election. This 51-49 prediction has McConnell celebrating — since Vice President Mike Pence can issue the tie-breaking vote, McConnell needs only 50 of the 53 Republicans in the Senate on his side.
Thankfully, there exists a strong deterrent for Barrett. As columnist David Frum points out, any last-minute nominee would undoubtedly face a lifetime of suspicion from most of the U.S. after being viciously attacked in the Senate and vilified across the country. Also, the expected battle would mobilize Democrats concerned about the possible rollback of progressive gains and “the potential that a 6–3 conservative majority could hand Trump virtually unchecked power or overturn any major achievement a President Biden could hope to accomplish.” Democrats would decidedly focus on taking control of the presidency and the Senate in hopes of abolishing the filibuster and expanding SCOTUS.
From now until the inauguration of a new president and a new Congress in January, we cannot rest easily. The stakes were already more than high enough with Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the threat to the upcoming election’s integrity, and the ever-so-present political polarization in the U.S. As Howard Zinn wrote, fundamental changes, like implementing universal healthcare or redistributing wealth in the U.S., depend “on the actions of an aroused citizenry, demanding that the promise of the Declaration of Independence — an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — be fulfilled.”